Focus on New Laws: Forfeiture Reform

August 23, 2021

Cities should be aware of significant changes to civil asset forfeiture in this new law.

After years of stakeholder and legislative input and engagement, the Legislature has passed forfeiture reform into law. First Special Session Chapter 11, article 5 revises the Minnesota forfeiture system related to driving while intoxicated (DWI) and controlled substances. The new law is effective Jan. 1, 2022 and applies to seizures that take place on or after that date.

Review the new law to learn more about the many changes to civil asset forfeiture

Innocent owner changes

A key change to the law is a simplified and expedited challenge process for “innocent owners,” or individuals who may own a vehicle but were not the driver alleged to have committed a designated offense (such as a DWI), or were alleged to have used a vehicle in the transportation/exchange of a controlled substance for distribution or sale. This change allows for more substantive and procedural legal protections to these individuals.

Allowable uses for money obtained through forfeiture

For any money resulting from forfeitures, law enforcement agencies and prosecuting authorities are allowed to use these funds for training, education, crime prevention, equipment, or capital expenses. However, the prosecuting authority does not include privately contracted prosecutors of a local political subdivision. In those situations, forfeiture proceeds must be directed to the political subdivision where the forfeiture was handled.

Exceptions for DWI forfeitures

Minnesota Statutes, section 169A.63, subdivision 13, now allows certain exceptions for DWI forfeitures, including ignition interlock or participation in treatment court for alcohol or other drug dependence. This section also replaces posting a bond with the option of surrendering the title of the seized vehicle.

Limitations on forfeiture of certain property associated with controlled substances

Among other changes, Minnesota Statutes, section 609.5311, subdivision 3, now provides that money is subject to forfeiture only if it has a value of at least $1,500, or there is probable cause to believe that it was exchanged for the purchase of a controlled substance. This is a new threshold in law, which is a more equitable application of the forfeiture laws (as previously these lower-level amounts resulted in very few or any legal challenges).

Property subject to administrative forfeiture related to controlled substances

The new law amends Minnesota Statues, section 609.5314, subdivision 1, to now establish that the following are subject to administrative forfeiture:

  • Money totaling $1,500 and any precious metals or stones when there is probable cause to believe that they represent the proceeds of a controlled substance offense.
  • All money found in proximity to controlled substances when there is probable cause to believe that the money was exchanged for the purchase of a controlled substance.
  • Any vehicle containing controlled substances with a value of $100 or more if there is probable cause to believe that the vehicle was used in the transportation or exchange of controlled substances intended for distribution or sale; this is a more equitable application of the forfeiture laws to lower-level amounts which in the past were rarely challenged due to the cost benefit analysis.

Transparency reporting requirement

The statutory reporting requirements have been changed as well. Minnesota Statues, section 609.5315, subdivision 6, requires law enforcement agencies and prosecuting authorities to provide more data to the State Auditor about each forfeiture to include a record of the total amount of money or proceeds from the sale of forfeited property, along with the manner in which the money and proceeds were used. This addition was designed to provide more transparency to this forfeiture process.

Specific forfeiture reports must be made on a quarterly basis, and reports of the use of money or proceeds must be made annually.

Recidivism study

The new law directs the Legislative Auditor to conduct an audit on the efficacy of forfeiture and ignition interlock in DWI cases. The report must identify the financial impact of the programs, efficacy in the reducing recidivism, and any impact on public safety. The Legislative Auditor must provide the final report to the Legislature by Jan. 15, 2025.

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